Yesterday, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a rally was held on the steps of the state capitol building to protest proposed budget cuts to public education. The protesters demanded that Governor Tom Corbett abandon his proposal to reduce funding for K-12 education, as the state deals with the same fiscal shortfalls that are plaguing states across the nation. And across the nation, these rallies have become a common sight, with roving bands of teachers and their truant children, their union leaders, and bussed in protesters excoriating and vilifying those who think education spending should be curtailed. Often times the teachers pull public school students into the rallies, as they apparently did in Harrisburg with marching bands from two public high schools. And always quick to join the fray are a smattering of social advocacy groups and politicians, the former trying to be relevant and the latter trying to score points for the next election.
What was remarkable about the Harrisburg rally was that it was planned and directed by the NAACP, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and not a teachers union, although it seems that the NAACP is becoming a front group for teachers unions. Admittedly, they had a good reason to protest, at least in spirit. While the state is planning to cut funding for education, they plan to increase funding for prisons. They cited a recently released NAACP report that showed a trend of high incarceration rates in areas surrounding poor-performing schools. Assuming (or implying) causality between the two, they suggest that money should be diverted from the penitentiary-industrial complex in order to better fund the education-industrial complex.* However, even if poor-performing schools are the driver of the high incarceration rates, the argument that robust education funding is the answer to the problem is misguided at best.
During the rally an NAACP executive claimed that public education was the “civil rights struggle [of] the 21st century”, echoing similar claims by Arne Duncan and Barack Obama. They have a point. The public education system is indeed failing black and other underserved communities (including poor Hispanic and white communities). Unfortunately, the NAACP doesn’t realize that you can’t fix a problem by perpetuating it.
The Pennsylvania public school system is similar to that of public school systems throughout the country – a failure. 45% percent of PA high school graduates receive diplomas without meeting standards, while 30,000 drop out each year. Yet Pennsylvania is not underfunded. In terms of both education expenditures per student and average teacher salary, Pennsylvania ranks in the top 12 states in the country, and our country is second only to Switzerland in education spending per student in the world. The problem with our public schools isn’t that they receive too little funding, it is that they exist as monopolistic government entities. Government is by nature wasteful and of low quality because it is beholden to special interests, is spending other people’s money, and it has no profit motive to make it cost efficient. Government monopolies are even more wasteful and of lower quality because they receive no pressure from competitors to increase their quality or decrease their cost.
If fixing the education system is the civil rights issue of our time, the NAACP should not be rushing in to support the government monopoly system that is destroying the lives of black youth. At the rally there were signs and buttons opposing voucher programs. While vouchers are not a panacea, they do provide real options for families who want to escape the schools that the NAACP rightly acknowledges as poorly performing schools. Do the parents of these children not deserve the better education they could get if they had the opportunity to flee these schools? Should only the wealthier families have the luxury of sending their kids to a decent school? The NAACP has also been a vocal opponent of charter schools. Like vouchers, while charter schools will not fix the public education system, they provide an alternative to the district monopoly public school. The NAACP and other so-called concerned organizations are clearly not concerned about civil rights; they are concerned about political power. In a backward way, some want to perpetuate the status quo in order to ensure a marginalized and economically destitute constituency, in order to maintain that political power.
Parents would be better off playing the lottery than waiting for corrupt politicians (but I repeat myself) to come riding in on white horses to reform the education system. The only alternative most parents in these neighborhoods have is also the best alternative. They can withdraw from the failing public schools entirely to homeschool – no vouchers, no charter schools required. In doing so, they will provide their children with superior, safer and more loving educational experiences. If education is the civil rights issue of our time, I implore the NAACP and the many pandering politicians to get on board and start supporting homeschooling, as it is truly the great equalizer.
* There is no need to spend more on the prison system. While the US has less than 5% of the world’s population, the US also has nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Many of these criminals are in jail for victimless or minor, non-violent crimes. The Economist recently discussed the oppressive laws and incarceration rates in the US.